Agile Marketing in Practice—Part 1

By Stephen Griffin in Marketing
·8 min read

As a marketer, are you struggling to complete a million tasks each day without working overtime? You've probably seen the term Agile Marketing in your search for solutions. But what is it? How does it work? And how the hell is it going to help you?

Agile, Scrum, Sprints...the first time I saw a job advertisement with these terms in it, I thought it was for a rugby coach. I studied Sports and Exercise Science. I coached football. Sure, I can apply for it and see what happens, I thought. Then I opened the description and found that it was for an IT company. Now, before you start complaining that this is meant to be a blog about Agile Marketing, it is, but it didn't start out in marketing, it started in IT development and evolved from there.

So, If It's Not Rugby, then What Is It?

For any of you that have been following this blog, you may have seen Michal Kadak's post, Agile, Scrum, and Some Other Swear Words, published in January. If you haven't, you really should check it out. Michal did a great job of explaining what it all means to him. It is, after all, a methodology and not a strict set of rules. And, as with all methodologies, it is open to change, depending on the needs of the team or individual. In theory, the goal of Agile Development is to make sure that a team is: 

  • delivering value
  • implementing useful changes
  • working at an optimal rate
  • ensuring (hopefully) that no nasty little surprises mess up all your hard work

Yes, you would expect these things from any good team regardless of their approach.

However, in development (and I'll talk more on the same topic in marketing soon, I promise), you generally either have a Waterfall approach or an Agile approach, both of which are different ways to try to achieve what's listed above. But, with the Waterfall approach, you go through entire stages, one at a time, working towards a final completion date—at which point all your work reaches its conclusion. You have:

  • the discovery phase—completing all the research and analysis of the business requirements
  • the design phase—where you design all the technical aspects of the project and get to understand how the project will be developed
  • the coding—where your developers work hour after hour on coding and testing the designs that were created in the previous stage
  • the big bang—the day you launch your awesome project, if, of course, you managed to stick to your stages, hit your targets, and it all works perfectly, which in the real world is not always the case

In the Agile approach, though, you work in Sprints—shorter cycles of the same approach as above but done on a continuous basis. Before you kick off your project, you break it down into smaller tasks that can be completed within a Sprint (normally between one week and a month). You complete the discovery, design, coding, and testing for each of the smaller tasks all within the Sprint and do it on an ongoing basis until the final date. Within a Sprint, it is possible to deliver a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), one that will still deliver results, but might not be the super-polished version you would like to have. In the following Sprint, you might try to improve on the MVP, or you might find that a different task is actually more important than improving the MVP.

Don't Go Chasing Waterfalls

And this is where I will start linking it to Marketing, I bet you're excited now! With a Waterfall approach, you have a final date when the big bang should happen, and all teams work towards that date. Whether it is the release of a new product version, the launch of a new website, or even the start of a big marketing campaign, you pick a date and work towards it. However, if your launch date is a year away, how can you be sure up front how much you can actually deliver by the end date? Unless you have been doing this for a long time, know just how fast every member of your team can work, and have a crystal ball to warn you of future problems, you are going to struggle to break down a yearly project into fortnightly Sprints. You might estimate too high and not be able to create all the campaign assets you need, or you might estimate too low and actually end up with an inferior campaign. And even worse, what do you do if something goes horribly wrong in the preparation—if your boss suddenly decides he wants you to organize the company Christmas party instead, your copywriter suddenly realizes he is dyslexic, your graphic designer inexplicably develops color blindness, or maybe your campaigns manager is actually a rugby coach? Then what do you do? You're halfway through a project with the discovery and design phases finished but you don't have the people to finish the production so you can go live. Not ideal, right?

You Can't Sprint a Marathon

Even in Agile, you still have a campaign launch date and know what you would like to achieve before that date, the same as with Waterfall. But instead of putting all your eggs in one basket, you break the campaign down into smaller chunks that can each be completed in a given Sprint—the length of your Sprints are up to you, it could be a week, two weeks, a month, whatever period you think works best for your marketing team. But remember, the shorter the Sprint, the more Agile you can be, as you can change your focus, tasks, and goals much quicker. Personally, I would recommend a two-week Sprint cycle for most teams. The key to each Sprint, which must be highlighted, is that at the end of the Sprint, you should deliver some "value"—some usable asset that, if disaster occurs, can still be used in your campaign. With every additional Sprint you manage to complete, you add a new item to the list of usable assets for your campaign. Start your planning by breaking the project down into smaller chunks you can deliver in a given Sprint. Then, start to prioritize the tasks and continue to do that on an ongoing basis. Just as above, if you delivered an MVP in one Sprint, you need to determine whether the next value to be delivered is improving that MVP or a different task in the backlog. Before each Sprint, you sit with your team to determine which option is the most valuable for the project. Say, for example, you are launching a new version of your most popular sneakers for 2018. As a marketer, you would probably want to show your website visitors these awesome new sneakers in their full glory. Well, you might consider creating a new landing page for your campaign to give people all the info they need and a link to buy them. So, in Sprint 1, you might develop an MVP version of a landing page, so, if all else gets put on hold, you still have a page available to advertise the sneakers. Next up, you need to get people there, so you might consider some Adwords or Social Media banners. As the Sprints continue, you might reach a point in the timeline where the biggest value you could deliver is to make some improvements to your landing page, such as new graphics, or a tracked form, etc. And so the Sprints continue, creating new assets, or improving what's already created on an ongoing basis that, at the end, all adds up to an awesome campaign, but on their own merits, can be used even if disaster strikes at some point.

As Agile as a Sloth

The thing to remember about Agile Marketing, and the Agile approach in general, is that it is a methodology and not a strict set of rules. So, you can bend and manipulate it to suit your needs, and you don't need to follow all the steps and enforce all the processes. Sometimes, you just won't be able to break down everything into single Sprints. It's not ideal and definitely not the best practice to do this on an ongoing basis, but, occasionally, you can spread a task across two (max three) Sprints and just have a longer Sprint cycle for that iteration. Or, you might cancel a Sprint for an iteration, if you need some time to do more research and determine the next steps for the campaign. Make Agile work for you, don't try to conform strictly to its guidelines. 

Agile—the Cinderella Story

The Agile approach is hugely attractive to marketing teams, especially those running multiple campaigns at one time. You can determine which asset in which campaign should be done next, not based on the task or the difficulty, but the level of value it will bring. And using the Agile approach, you are constantly delivering the highest value options first, so that you are maximizing your capacity. As you get used to the Agile approach, you are going to learn where you can make changes, what you can bend and what you can't, what is working and what isn't, and, hopefully, through trial and error, find the perfect fit for your glass slipper.

If you can't wait that long, then check back for part two of my blog where I will tell you what happened when we implemented Agile Marketing in Kentico, some of the obstacles we faced, some of the guidelines we bent, and some of the benefits we have found with it.

In the meantime, maybe you have some thoughts or experiences of your own. Have you implemented Agile Marketing with huge success? Or have you failed miserably with it? Have you mastered your planning? Or are you still working 20 hours a day to complete your Sprint tasks? Join the discussion below and share your story.

By Stephen Griffin in Marketing
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